So, you want to write. Huzzah! Many people want to write /think they have a novel in them. Many of those won’t get past the first chapter, or if they do, will never finish. If you want to, if you realise that whatever your preconceptions, writing is not easy, then here are a few tips for starters.
Firstly, disabuse yourself of the notion here is the One True Way to write a novel, the Formula that means it will be the next Harry Potter and you’ll be in the jacuzzi with a million pounds. There is not a formula. There is also no one way…which is good. There are as many ways of writing a novel as there are writers – possibly more, because it isn’t the same for each novel.
The two extremes are this:
Outline the heck out of it so you know what happens in each paragraph before you you write it
Have no freaking idea what the book is about until it’s there on the paper.
Neither are bad. Neither are good, if they don’t work for you. Most writers fall somewhere in between. I’m waaaay more of a pantser myself (I like to have a pithy line of dialogue in mind for near the end, and work towards that, seat of the pants style) Other than that, I have a character in mind, and just see what happens. Weirdness, quite often.
There is a reason for this – I’m the sort of writer where the act of writing makes the ideas and connections flow. So, I might write an outline and then all these little ideas pop up as I write and…5k words later, the outline bears no resemblance to what I’m writing. And the little ‘ideas as I write’ are almost always the best bit. But that’s me. Your mileage may vary. Find/think/discover what works for you. There is no one right way. There IS the way that gets the book written for you.
Very many writers swear by working out what needs to happen before they write though (I hope to have a ‘how to…outline’ later in the series) so if that sounds like you, go for it. Just be aware that it’s very easy to labour over the outline (plus worldbuilding if you’re writing fantasy) and then never get round to writing the book. Worldbuilding/outlining can be great, but not if you do it at the expense of actually writing the thing. Sounds obvious, but a lot of would-be writers get caught in the trap.
Okay, so we’re getting there. You’ve started writing. You look at it, you think either one of two things (get used to it, writers sway between these two as an occupational hazard) ‘It’s pants’ and ‘It’s like the best novel that has EVER BEEN WRITTEN! I AM A GENIUS’
If you think it’s crap…take heart. Your first draft is not supposed to be perfect. That is what editing/rewrites are for. First get it written, then get it right.
If you think it’s 100% genius..actually when you’re starting out, that’s more of an issue. Really. No book is 100% genius. But you’re so damn pleased you got the book out of you, onto the page, it’s awesome, it’s fab, it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Yes. I have been there.
It almost certainly isn’t. Now, you might be the genius that proves the rule. But let’s face it, you probably aren’t. But there is a solution. It’s called ‘learning to take constructive criticism’. It will be vital. Really. If someone says ‘this is confusing’ or ‘the characters feel flat’ or whatever, you don’t have to listen to them. They might be the exception, or rubbish writers themselves or…. But if you end up ignoring them you should always consider what they said.
Rules. You will see, if you surf re writing, a lot of things posited as ‘rules’. Don’t start with the weather, or the MC (main character) waking up or dialogue..any number of things.
They are not rules. No, the rules in writing pertain to concrete things like grammar and punctuation and the one, singular rule that you should always adhere to: Always entertain the reader. Which is subjective anyway, and therefore, not really a rule. So, do it, As long as it worksAnd not just for you, for the people you ask to read it. Because you will ask people to read it.
So, you want to write.
Three things you need to do, if you want to be a writer who isn’t just someone who talks about writing.
Read widely, and analyse what you read (how did they make me feel that? How did they go from one scene to the next? Why does this plot work and that one not? Read with writing in mind)
Write often – it’s way, waay too easy to only write when the muse is upon you. But if you write often (every day, even if a little) then the muse will come find you and ask you to party. With tequila. Writing begets writing. Really. Be aware it can also be addictive.
But the biggest, most important thing you can do (other than actually put words in) is this
Resources for beginning writers
Grammar for Dummies (US or UK edition) in any good bookshop or online.
Self Editing for Fiction writers < how to clean up your prose and a general guide to Stuff What Works.
Absolute Write – the number one resource for writers on the web. Ask any damn daft question, and you’ll have experienced writers help you out.